THIS MORNING SOMETHING WONDERFUL HAPPENED TO ME

My relationship with time has always been a little wobbly but since the pandemic, wobbles have turned into free-falls and bumpy rides through the land of “what is time anyway?”

This is my way of saying I don’t remember when “that morning” happened. Was it spring, summer, fall, winter? I don’t know. But it’s easy to flash back to the moment.

There he is, one of our CC Strummers, a big teddy bear of a guy, gripping a giant coffee in one hand and his ukulele in the other. You can’t miss his mischievous Cheshire Cat smile because it kind of lights up the room.

Then he speaks.

“Cali, something wonderful happened to me this morning.”   Pause…pause…pause…   He leaves me dangling over the edge of this conversational cliff as I mentally scroll through the possibilities here.

“Okay, okay…so what happened?” I finally ask.

“I WOKE UP!”

Well I hear this and burst into laughter, like snorting kind of laughter. (I thought he was going to say he got laid…)

This Morning Something Wonderful Happened To Me (I Woke Up) with Cali, Michael, Lyn, Debbie, Toni, Sheila-Sheila, Ethan, Tom, Nancy, Nomi, Doug, Chris, Lin and Marilyn. Click this picture to watch the video.

Please tell me how do we miss “the obvious?” That of course…we woke up this morning. But it doesn’t take long for my ha-ha-ha to level out and kerplop into the mortality thing.That IF we have the good fortune to wake up one more day, the rest is gravy. That we are renters in this apartment building of life and sooner or later we have to turn in the key.  So being here NOW is a pretty big deal.

These little flashes of whooo-whooo happen once in a while and I try to capture them for keepsies. When I was a kid growing up in Washington D.C. I loved to catch lighting bugs and slide them into an empty mayonnaise jar. My father used a screwdriver to poke air holes in the cap so they could breathe. The next morning I woke up. The bugs did not.

It’s taken a long time for that lesson to sink in. Once a flesh and blood moment of “aha” is snared in a net of words, well…poof.  It loses it’s electrical charge.  I still scribble in my journal anyway because I can’t help myself. But in this case, I decided to write that waking up thing into a song so I would remember.  Really remember.   And that’s how “This Morning Something Wonderful Happened to Me (I Woke Up)” came about.

When I started performing my song at gigs I noticed something very interesting. Other people had the same reaction that I did when I first heard the words. They laughed, like “oh yeah…right…” And then they didn’t.

But now they sing along. Every time. With joy!  Who can ask for more?

It’s the yin and yang of life, made visible. A little darkness in light; a little light in darkness. “And maybe all is well, even when it is not.” (Yep, I wrote that into the song).

With the help of Michael Kohan, The CC Strummers’ video-creator, editor-extraordinaire, the bass player too and several CC Strummers who cheerfully played in the sand box with us, we have come up with a marvelous visual expression of this deeply felt observation. CLICK HERE to watch and please share it with your peeps!

Here today, gone tomorrow! Whoop it up folks!

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This Morning Something Wonderful Happened To Me (I Woke Up)
is from my ukulele CD, Smile, Smile, Smile.
Ask Alexa to play it for you or check out Amazon and Apple Music.

366 DAYS

Auld Lang Syne for 2020

What a year! These 366 days. They came at us like roiling storm clouds. One freaking squall after another. At times I have felt like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, running for the backyard hole-in-the-ground before the tornado hits. My own storm shelter is made of blankets, which I pull over my head. I close my eyes, cover my ears and go “na-na-na-na-na.” Apparently kindergarten is still in session our house.

Obviously, in ways stark to slim, this year will not leave us where it found us. We are forever changed. At whiplash speed. Sure we’re all in this together, considering we live on the same planet, but it sure seems like we’re riding out the storm in different boats. The immensity of the issues that confront us, personally and as earth-dwellers, is overwhelming and I can go into a dark funk just thinking about it.

But through all the darkness of 2020 there have been flashes of sunshine. And stars and a rainbow or two. So when I’m not hiding under the covers, I change the conversation and direct the self-talk to what I’m called to do. Right now. Right here. This helps me be with today’s mess as if I’m peering through a wider lens. Like what do things look like from a hundred miles up? From two years from now? So I choose doing because ruminating is making me crazy.

This quote, “Grit, grace, gratitude,” is pressed under the plastic coverlet on my desk. I stuck it in a place where I would see it every day. Next to my computer. These are the words of Gwen Ifill, the late, dearly beloved journalist who passed away in 2016. When I first heard them, something inside went ding-ding-ding. They have served me well in the last 366 days.

And here we are—at the cusp of a new year. Does it feel like we are being drop-kicked into 2021?

But there is the sunshine part too: My zoom classes and gigs have been a miracle of technology and heart. We are helping each other endure, to make it through. And we’re doing it together, inviting total strangers over an invisible threshold into our own corner of the world–a living room, dining room, bedroom, office, cubby hole, garage, closet, kitchen, under a tree, in a car, into our life.

For me, this is grace made visible. And grit (are you woodshedding that Bb chord?) And gratitude (for waking up this morning). Singing and playing together, it changes the conversation. No matter our differences.

I’ve shared my ukulele fantasy with many of you: By executive order, every member of Congress is issued a ukulele. Nothing fancy or high end. They hire a patient and politically-neutered teacher to show each Democrat, Republican, Independent, how to strum three chords: C, F and G7. In tempo! They learn to play and sing one chorus and verse of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” Each senator and representative must practice five minutes every day. Alone and with a colleague from across the aisle. When they all show up for an important vote… Well you can see where this is going. They have to do Woody Guthrie FIRST. Ya think more legislation would pass?

Yeah, I know… In my dreams. Well maybe Congress can’t change the conversation. But you and I can.

So here’s a toast to grit, grace and gratitude. To a change of heart, to enduring, to kindness and to the healing power of music! We will need them all in the new year.

Warmly,
Cali

If you would like more information about my three weekly Zoom ukulele classes, please log onto my website by CLICKING HERE.

GRATEFUL

I land on the steps of The Superior Court Building one June morning in buoyant, conflicted downtown Los Angeles and queue up with the rest of the prospective jurors to squeeze through security and “go right” into the big gray-feeling jury pool room. Can you tell I’m jittery? Actually I am freaking out. Like I’m the one on trial.

I’ve been fretting about this one day for months. Months! Will they know–these judges and lawyers and official-looking people in uniforms–that I stole an eraser in 4th grade? Will they know that the last courtroom drama I watched from beginning to end was “The Verdict” with Paul Newman? Why? Because I’m not wired for this kind of stuff. I’d rather eat cardboard than be here.

So back to the jury pool room… As if there is swimming or billiards? Just before noon a disembodied voice from on high calls my name, along with 37 others, to report to “Courtroom OMG” for a criminal trial at 1:30pm. We obediently reply by saying “here.” When someone doesn’t say “here” loud enough, a chorus of others in the room calls out “here-here-here” for the low-energy person in question. It’s a lovely moment of community service.

After lunch we gather in the hallway outside the courtroom until the Superior Court Wrangler Guy herds us into three lines and hands each of us a little piece of paper with a handwritten number on the front. We are told to slip it into our juror badge. I am standing at the head of one line and just like that my new official name is Juror 18. All this is virgin territory for me and I haven’t given one thought to math. As in—divide 36 by 2 and you get 18.

But all this becomes evident as we are escorted into the big courtroom and the first 18 of us head to the jury box. Mind you I can’t feel my legs now and the inside of my lips are sticking to my teeth. Thank you for asking. The remaining 18 get comfy in the gallery. And it’s going to be a long haul, for all of us, because the judge and the lawyers ply us with questions for almost two and a half hours. Until the end of the day.

I must say that everyone is very kind except for the lady bailiff who gets a little testy with a guy in the back of the courtroom for, gasp, looking at his cell phone. She’s wearing a gun. He puts his phone away.

I will also spare you most of the details—like how I tell the judge I believe only 50 percent of what I hear because people spin the truth and forget stuff, or worse, omit important information. He looks at me incredulously and asks “50 percent, really?” To this I reply, “okay, 51.” Obviously all I need to do is look in the mirror to prove my point.

Now I’m watching the prosecuting attorney build a flow chart with a pad of Post-It Notes, colored pens and highlighters. Each juror has his or her own Post-It with lots of little scribbles on it. I glance at the defense attorney two long desks over and he’s doing the same thing.

When I was in college I took a class in experimental psychology. We were issued our own lab rat to run through the mazes. I called my little guy Sam. Sam was an asshole. Once he tried to bite off the tip of my finger and I was so mad I threw him across the room. No worries. Sam, all bravado and puffery, survived his flight and taunted me for the rest of the quarter. Along with my fellow students…who called me out to the professor. I’m not proud of my behavior and still feel prickles of guilt. But I’m telling you Sam’s story because, in this courtroom today, I feel like a lab rat.

The judge concludes his very civil inquisition in grand style, asking each of us this: “How would you describe yourself, using ONE word?”

Yes! One Word.

Take a moment… What word would you choose that completely captures the essence of YOU? Okay, times up…

One person says happy, another boring (that gets a ripple of ha-ha’s in the room). As I recounted this story to my Saturday ukulele class, one guy said his word would be “incontinent.” I have a few seconds to think about my word because remember I am number 18 but when it’s my turn here is what pops out of my sticky lips:

GRATEFUL

And you know what, it’s true. As bad as things can get, I’m still breathing and personally think it’s a miracle that any of us are here. That’s because I’m kind of a pessimist too. I just expect things to go south. And when they don’t (and they usually don’t) I’m SO happy. Actually I’d say I’m a “grateful pessimist” but that’s TWO words and I don’t want to piss off the judge.

At this point the prosecuting attorney rises to his feet, stares ME down and says “If you don’t mind me asking, Juror 18, what are YOU grateful for?”

And this is what I say:

“I’m grateful because this morning I woke up. And I’m grateful you woke up too.”

I’m referencing my own song of course, “This Morning Something Wonderful Happened to Me (I Woke Up). Can you believe it? The words just bounce out of my mouth like ping pong balls. Boing, boing, boing.  After that the prosecuting attorney leaves me alone. So does the defense attorney. And in the end I am excused from the jury. I assume the remaining 18 in the gallery have to return the next day.

Believe it or not, this is ONE day I wouldn’t give back for all the swimming pools in Los Angeles. It blasts me out of my comfort zone. (You think my lawyer-ly friends are rolling their eyes about now?) And I take full responsibility for my self-inflicted fretting–even though it feels like all that worry shaved a few months off my life.

I also reflect with gratitude…yes, gratitude…that my degree in psychology led me on a most circuitous route…to piano bars. I’m grateful I get to play music today. I’m grateful that lawyers, judges, jurors make the best of it within an imperfect system.

That goes for all of us.

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You gotta love synchronicity… Speaking of This Morning Something Wonderful Happened to Me ( I Woke Up), here is a video I made shortly before my adventure in Jury-Land.

I am sitting on the sofa in the living room, just the uke and me. I clamp my iPhone to a music stand and strain my brain to look at the camera lens instead of my own face on the phone. With a Sharpie I draw an arrow on a baby Post-It and point it at the lens. Cali…CALI…Look Here!

And there’s more! Over the years I’ve come up with strums and tricks to play fast on the ukulele and I show them to you in the accompanying video tutorial. CLICK HERE to watch both on my website and download the ukulele arrangement of my song.

And remember that this morning something wonderful happened…  YOU woke up.